trips

Fireworks and flame shells

Underwater photographers tend to take a different view of dive sites on a trip to non-shooting divers. We will often be keen to keep returning to the same site repeatedly on a trip rather than trying to see a different site on each dive. So it was on a recent trip to West Scotland, I dived in only two sites. In each of two sea lochs, I dived in a single area. However these were very much contrasting locations, one a very clean high energy site needing slack water and the other a slightly murky low energy spot. Each is home to unusual but “locally common” species, well worth braving the 6-degree water temperature for.

Loch Duich is home to the impressive fireworks anemone and the maerl bed of the narrows at the head of Loch Carron is home to hidden flame shells, as well as a mass of macro subjects. Here are a selection of images to give a flavour of the sites.

First of all, Loch Duich:

And here’s North Strome on Loch Carron:

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publications

Scuba Cover shot

I arrived home from holiday today, to find the September issue of Scuba magazine waiting for me on the doorstep. I am both delighted and honoured to find that not only does it contain my feature on shore diving in the North of Scotland, but I also have the cover shot with my image of a purple nudibranch (Flabellina pedata). This lovely image is one of two nudibranch shots discussed in the regular Photo Quest column, which I write jointly with my dive buddy Trevor Rees


The image was one I took a few years back on the breakwater at Plymouth sound. I was very pleased with the image and entered it for several competitions, with no luck at all. A large print of it hangs on my kitchen wall and I often looked at it and said to myself “that’s a strong image”, and over time it has won me a big competition prize, as well as this cover shot. It just goes to show that sometimes you need to stick to your guns and not be discouraged.

  
The feature, “Two snappers, a compressor and a campervan”, tells the story of a road trip I took with my buddy. Our aim was to dive the most northerly sea loch in mainland Scotland, but the motivation for doing this was to try to find some rarely (never?) dived shore dive sites, in more remote locations away from the usual limitations of dive centres and RIB launch points. We certainly had a most enjoyable week; like any “expedition” dive trip, we had our share of dud sites and challenging clambers into the water, but it was worth it for the collection of really memorable dives we did discover.

 

dives, trips

Devon weekend

Oaten Pipe hydroids
Oaten Pipe hydroids
Sending up the shot
Sending up the shot
On the bottom
On the bottom
Waiting on the line
Waiting on the line

I greatly enjoyed a trip to Devon last weekend and, though the water was cold, the visibility was surprisingly good. I managed four dives- two reefs and a wreck (twice). The reef, East Rutts was a very pleasant place to spend an hour and this early in the season is covered in Oaten Pipe (Tubularia indivisa) hydroids. Those hydroids won’t be around for very much longer, as they are the food for nudibranchs (sea slugs). We saw many spiral swirls of eggs, but no slugs yet, but I would expect that by May the hydroids will be gone.

The wreck was called the Riversdale. It’s large and intact (except for the bow), with an impressive rudder and prop. It’s a while since I dived and took photos on wrecks at this depth (38m to the deck) and, photographically it was quite a challenge, due to the narcosis and the limited time. Even with good vis, lighting is difficult. We dived it twice, on consecutive days, as we could not get the shot line up after the first dive, so had to leave it in overnight and send it up on a lifting bag at the start of the second dive!

The vis was very good (about 8-10m), but I could see the beginnings of a “May bloom” of algae in the top few metres. Let’s hope that comes and goes quickly and does not spoil the view too much.

dives

Loch Creran narrows

Exploring sea lochs, I tend not to dive in places with strong tidal streams, because currents and photography do not usually go well together. However, the part of Loch Creran we chose today was definitely scoured by current. We managed to avoid strong currents by diving at high water (though even at slack the water was eddying around) and boy was this site a find. The sea bed was so clean and the site abounded with species quite different to those seen just a few hundred metres away in parts of the loch not affected by currents.

A good example is this rather fine Flabellina pellucida (not to be confused with Coryphylla browni), which was present in large numbers and huge in size too(4-5cm). This image was captured using a Nikon D200 and 105mm macro lens, fitted with a 4T dioptre.

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dives

Swanage Pier

The town of Swanage is blessed with a marvellous Victorian pier, which has been lovingly restored and, 100 years after its construction, remains a tourist attraction. Nowadays, the visitors are mostly interested in aquatic pursuits- fishing, kayaking and of course diving.

Parked on Swanage Pier
Parking on the pier gives easy access to the water and to a dive shop for an air fill afterwards

Swanage Pier is a classic South Coast dive. The superstructure of the pier provides lots of places for life to hide and so is crammed with small creatures. Swanage faces East (the pier points almost North-East) and so is very sheltered; however, this position also means that it tends to be quite silty, so to photograph any of these critters takes quite a bit of care. Still, the water’s shallow, so there’s plenty of time…..

Flabellina lineata
A nudibranch (Flabellina lineata) under Swanage pier (Nikon D200, 60mm Nikkor, single Sea & Sea YS-110)
techniques

Small is beautiful

Polycera quadrilineata
A small nudibranch (Polycera quadrilineata) on a kelp frond in Loch Long. Nikon D200 + 60mm Micro Nikkor lens and single Sea & Sea YS-110 strobe and "bottle snoot"

This small nudibranch (less than 1cm) was one of very many crawling on the stalks of kelp in less than 2m of water in Loch Long. I took this image on the second of two dives at the site. The first time I had gone in with a wide-angle lens, looking to take some close-focus images and/or diver images. However the topology and poor vis did not allow me to produce any images I was proud of; in fact I lost my buddy for a large part of the dive. As we emerged together, I was feeling a little disappointed, but he was raving. “What a fantastic site! Did you see all those nudibranchs? I found plenty to work on“, and so on. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen them. It just goes to show how much the eye tunes in to a certain type of subject. Because I was searching for things bigger than a coke can, I did not notice the exquisite but tiny creatures.

On my second dive, after a swift lens change and grabbing my bottle snoot, I saw so many of the little critters that I was amazed I hadn’t seen them last time. They were so plentiful that I was spoiled for choice and able to find several subjects in just the right location to help me shoot them from a good angle. I’ll have to remember that when some divers say a site is boring because there’s nothing to see…